What to Expect from Federal Support for Biking in 2021
Next week, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be president and vice president. Control of the Senate will flip to the Democrats. This change in power could make a big difference in funding and support for biking and walking this year and beyond. With thanks to our national partners, the League of American Bicyclists, here’s what we’re looking forward to under the new administration.
Joe Biden is famous for being a train commuter. We’ve seen him ride a bike. Those facts alone are a massive improvement over a golf cart president who gets driven everywhere.
But we have high hopes that a Biden administration will do much more to promote active transportation. Biden’s cabinet appointments have delivered on his promise to prioritize climate change. He has created a new cabinet-level position of U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and appointed John Kerry to the role. In addition, the new administration promises that every executive branch department will address climate change.
Department of Transportation
The most critical appointment for active transportation is the head of the US Department of Transportation. We are heartened by Biden’s choice of Pete Buttigieg for Transportation Secretary. Among the presidential candidates, Buttigieg was one of only two candidates whose transportation platform earned a perfect score from Transportation for America. As mayor of South Bend, he helped the city get Silver Level status from the League, making it among the most bike-friendly cities in the midwest. Plus, as a former mayor, he should have a good grasp of the crucial role of safe biking and walking infrastructure in building resilient communities.
The USDOT can do a lot for biking and walking. Buttigieg will appoint his own deputies to oversee the agency’s $86 billion budget. These officials will be responsible for enforcing safety, equity, and efficiency in federal transportation spending.
For example, for the last four years, new safety regulations at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been gathering dust. That’s thanks to an executive order forcing agencies to get rid of two regulations for every new one they implement. We expect Biden to revoke this order. Under a Biden administration, expect to see more safety regulations that benefit people biking and walking.
A Democratic Congress
The new Democratic majority in both houses of Congress comes at a fortuitous time for transportation policy. Every five to six years, Congress writes a long-term transportation funding bill. In 2020, CalBike and many of you supported a new federal transportation funding bill called the INVEST In America Act to set national priorities for the next six years. The bill had many bike-friendly provisions, but Congress didn’t pass the bill before the 2020 elections.
With Democratic control of the Senate, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) will become Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee responsible for writing the transportation bill. Politico reports that he is scrapping the old version to write a new version that will implement President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda.
Two newly elected Senators will be champions of bicycling. Mark Kelly of Arizona is a bike commuter. Colorado’s John Hickenlooper invested heavily in bicycling when he was governor. These changes make significant improvements on the provisions in the INVEST In America Act a real possibility.
What to look for in the 2021 transportation bill
We hope to see some of CalBike’s key priorities added to the new transportation funding bill. For example, we hope to see a bikeway network grant program that will reward cities that build safe, low-stress bikeways. Our communities need bike networks that connect destinations, even when those routes are politically challenging to develop because of parking or traffic impacts. The current bill creates this vital program, thanks to lobbying from our national partners. However, the 2020 version funds the program with a measly one-time $250 million allocation. CalBike is pressing for $500 million in annual funding over the five-year lifespan of the bill. Other national priorities now on the table include a “complete streets” requirement for all federally-funded projects and generous tax credits to businesses and individuals for bike-related expenses.
Of course, our most important work remains at the state level. But having a supportive national government will push our Governor and legislature to do even better. We will keep you posted on the progress of the 2021 transportation funding bill.